CHARLESTON, S.C. — A South Carolina medical school and research hospital has told a newspaper that it will cost more than a quarter million dollars to fulfill an open records request into allegations that two students cheated on exams.

An attorney for the Medical University of South Carolina told the Post and Courier of Charleston that it could cost $275,000 to search email servers in connection with the inquiry, the paper reported Saturday (http://bit.ly/XiGlxD).

In a letter, the attorney also warned a reporter not to contact members of MUSC’s Honor Council, students or employees about university disciplinary proceedings. On Friday, a university spokeswoman added that the university will now require information requests from the paper to be submitted in writing.

The warnings and directives came after the newspaper learned last month of allegations that two students with ties to high-ranking public officials were brought before the Honor Council. Sources told the paper that the council recommended the students be expelled, but a dean overruled its decision.

The paper filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the information, seeking documentation from Honor Council proceedings, staff emails about cheating and information from any consultants hired to analyze test results. It also asked for emails that may have referenced the public official with ties to the students.

In a Sept. 1 letter, citing state and federal privacy laws, MUSC attorney Annette Drachman said the university would not turn over any documents related to the Honor Council or test-cheating allegations. Saying an email search would “be unduly burdensome,” Drachman said the university would do so “upon receipt of payment.”

Drachman’s warning also comes on the heels of a Post and Courier report that MUSC’s Board of Trustees racked up hundreds of thousands of dollars in hotel, dining and liquor bills in recent years. Last week, the Commission on Higher Education asked the state’s inspector general to investigate the university’s spending habits.

Attorney Jay Bender, an open records expert who represents The Post and Courier and the South Carolina Press Association, said it’s reporters’ duty to ask questions.

“It’s a shame that MUSC has such little understanding about the role of the press in society,” he said.


Information from: The Post and Courier, http://www.postandcourier.com